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The Silence and Reserve of Christian Sympathy.

The Silence and Reserve of Christian Sympathy.

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"/S'o tliey sat doion with Mm upon the ground seven days
and seven nights^ and none spahe a word unto him : for
they saw that his grief was very great." — Job, ii. 13.

"/S'o tliey sat doion with Mm upon the ground seven days
and seven nights^ and none spahe a word unto him : for
they saw that his grief was very great." — Job, ii. 13.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jul 18, 2014
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"/S'o tliey sat doion with Mm upon the ground seven days
and seven nights^ and none spahe a word unto him : for
they saw that his grief was very great." — Job, ii. 13.
rriHIS is one of those deep things in the philoso-
phj of human nature which make the Bible, not
only a store-house of sage apothegms and wise sen-
tences, but a book for the home affections and the
tenderest sympathies of man. They sat down with
him upon the ground seven days and seven nights,
and spake not a word unto him ; for they saw that
his grief was very great. Better, far better, and
the more complete their sympathy, if they had not
spoken after the seven days and nights were ended ;
only, we should then have lost one of the grandest
poems of the language, and religion would have
lacked one of the sublimest vindications of the
special providence of God.
But, not to discourse farther of the final incon-
siderateness of Job's friends, in speaking at all,—
by which they gained for themselves, not only the
bitter exclamation of the aflaicted man, ' miserable
comforters are ye all!' but the sterner rebuke of
Deity, for presuming to judge, with their finite com-
prehension, of the reason of His acts,— who does
not see the beauty and the appropriateness of their
first deed of sympathy, in keeping silence, even when
they had '' come to mourn with him and to comfort
him?"* To whom that has deeply suffered, does
it not come home with a sense, that, in Job's time,
men were as they now are, and that th^eep foun-
tains of our nature still spring from the same source
in our inner being which gave birth to them in the
hearts of the earliest sufferers of our race ? What
rightly cultivated mind does not recognize the ten-
derness, the delicacy and the propriety of a silent
sympathy, in hours of the deepest sorrow ? Who
does not see in it the truest pledge of friendship,
the surest cognizance of a fellow-suffering heart ?
Abstain even from good words ; for his grief is
very great. Sit down upon the ground with him,
as he sits among the ashes, crushed by the heavy
hand of God upon him. Kneel beside him in the
silent agony of prayer. Press him to thy heart, if
* Verse 11/
tliou wilt. Sustain Lis drooping head upon thy
manly shoulder. Take his hand : the loving pres-
sure of thine will reach his heart. But oh, sj^eah
not to that deeply stricken soul. Words are power-
less. The tenderest accents of love, much more the
formal and forced expressions of the world's condo-
lence, are a mockery of that overwhelming grief
Leave him alone to his God ; let the still small
voice of the good Spirit speak, which can alone
speak effectually to a smitten soul.
Who that Imis been forced to hear the cold sympa-
thy of earth in an hour of sorrow, who even that
has listened to the well-intentioned words of friends,
and felt how vainly they fell upon a spirit trans-
fixed by the arrows of the Almighty, has not re-
cognized, that a deeply settled grief allows no noisy
demonstrations of support, no parade of sympathy,
no ostentatious offers of succor ; that it is still,
itself, — the deeper, ever the stiller; and that it
loves only the balm which falls upon it like the
gentle dew from Heaven, unheard, unseen, but de-
scending with a potent influence for good because
it comes in softness, in silence, and with no obtru-
sive presentation of the ministering agent, as of
another and separated self.
In this world of sorrow, where there is left to us
all, as the sinning sons of Adam, so large a heritage
of woe, it is one of the hardest and, at the same
time, one of the most necessary lessons of human
love, to learn how, truly, to sympathize; and to
him to whom the patient discipline of our Heaven-
ly Father has taught, by the bearing of His own
burdens of grief, how he is to weep with those who
weep, there has come a benefaction which is a
talent for good that can hardly be excelled among
all the dearly bought experiences of earth. Let us
look at it for a moment ; and gain, if may be, for
ourselves, under the gracious teachings of the
Spirit of God, some intimations of the real char-
acter of this divine gift to man — a truly Christian
i. First of all, as I have briefly noted, it is not
noisy, it is not largely demonstrative. It loves not
the rude ways of the world, nor its showy preten-
sions, nor its ambitious manifestations. ••• It is pecu-
liarly the nature of grief to be reserved ; and it does
not, therefore, like talkative friends. It feels most
keenly the emptiness of earth : alas, this is the very
lesson which grief most naturally and most abidingly
learns ; — and, therefore, every thing merely of the
world is simply offensive to it. The ways of the
world are not its ways. They are not sufficiently
honest for it. They are too artificial, too unnatu-
ral ; whereas, grief brings us down to our naked
selves, and reduces all other things earthly to their
just proportions. The act of Job in rending his
mantle, (the Oriental garb of distinction,) the strip-
ping off of the clothes, the putting on of sack-cloth,
and the sitting in ashes, which were all ancient
tokens of grief, are not so much mere outward
badges of mourning, not so much insignia to others
that we are in sorrow, as they are the external
expression of that deep, inward feeling which be-
longs to affliction, and which teaches ns, that all
that is decorative, all that is superadded by the
artificial devices of men to plain human nature, is
not akin to the present condition of onr spirit.
Therefore it is, that the heart shrinks, almost in-
stinctively, in the hour of grief, from all that brings
to it the aspect of the world; and hence, every
thing like formality in sympathy is peculiarly re-
pulsive to itj^ Gro not beyond the natural bent of
the mind. Do not force tears into your eyes, nor
affect grief in your demeanor. It may be meant in
kindness ; but, it can only wound. Kather, say noth-
ing ; for nothing will do no harm ; and it requires
the tenderest care of a soul, itself well-disciplined
by suffering, not to seem harsh to the delicate edge
of an afflicted spirit. It is sensitive, over-sensitive,
it may be; but they are the wounds of the Al-
mighty from which it suffers ; and it is sacrilege to
break the reed which lie has bruised.
It is, indeed, so hard a thing for one who is in
prosperity, even if he knows what suffermg is, to
enter into the full feeling of one in affliction, that it
is ordinarily better for him to say nothing— no-
thing, at least, of the sorrow and the trial, when it
is fresh and poignant. I have often seen a soul
more comforted by ordinary topics of conversation,
provided that they be not of the mere world, than
by the directest efforts of sympathy. I have seen
other matters of interest, which still remain to the
afflicted, skilfully introduced by a friend, to cover
up the present sense of bereavement. I have seen
an active duty prevailing over a deep wound, and
affording a balsam for it which all the treasures of
professed condolence could not supply. It is ever,
indeed, one of the wisest things for sorrow to find
an active duty; and it is one of the truest deeds of
friendship to point out some performance to grief
Story tells us of a beautiful design for a monu-
ment, in which Patience is represented as smiling
at Sorrow. I have often thought, that suffering,
yet active, Love, in Patience's place, might wear a
brighter smile ;— but, sometimes, the pierced heart
can only lie in the dust — and wait.
In truth, it is chiefly in act that true sympathy
must sliow itself. A letter is better than a spoken
•^ord, — who does not, at once, acknowledge this?
— and the slightest missive token of affectionate
remembrance is better than a formal, or even natu-
ral, speech of sympathy. One, almost invariably,
feels an awkwardness in sitting down expressly to
comfort an afflicted person. The words do not
come, "there is no natural flow to them. They
are forced and perfunctory. They seem, to our-
selves, unequal to the occasion ; and, to the afflict-
ed, they often seem most wretchedly unsuited to it.
The reason is, that the whole performance is an un-
natural one. We are doing wrong to our own
nature, and downright violence to the afflicted
spirit. Would that we could convince ourselves,
even in this free land, that we are not always to
speak our minds ; that the wisest of men knew
better than we, when he said, " To every thing
there is a season, and a time to every purpose
under the heaven," and, among these, there is even
"a time to keep silence," as well as "a time to
speak ;"* and that the hour of grief is, of all hours,
that when our ivords should be few, our acts^ if our
relations with the afflicted call us to them, many,
but unshowy, unobtrusive, unnoticeable, if may be,
by the grief-distracted spirit. They will be seen in
* Eccl. iii. 1, 7.
due time, when the storm is past, and that spirit
looks back to reflect upon the companionship
which it had in the hour of trouble, when the
tempest diverted its thoughts from all beyond the
storm ; and if not discovered even then, better still,
— for they will be inevitably discovered by Him
who seeth in secret, but who rewardeth openly.
ii. There is, also, a sanctity in sorrow which
should be an effectual safeguard against all in-
trusiveness, even of sympathy. It is God who
is dealing with the afflicted soul. Take thou heed
how thou puttest thy careless, or thine unskilful
hand, to the work of the Master. When thou
comest into the presence of a stricken spirit, take
thy shoes from off thy feet. They bear upon them
the dust of earth ; and the place where thou stand-
est is holy ground. God is there — the Lord of
Lords — the only living and true God. He is there,
by a most awful presence ; and the sublimest work
of His love, the purifying of a chosen one, is in
His hands. He sitteth in the chamber of sorrow,
as the refiner of silver. The most delicate opera-
tion of His wisdom and love is there working out
its beneficent results. Mar not His infinite skill
by thine own ungracious handling. Who knows,
from that crucible of affliction, what fair form of
renovated piety shall come forth, to a higher and
purer life? Mingle not in it the ingredients of
tliine own folly ; lest the Cross bear a stain which
the Eeiiner cannot eradicate, lest the precious work
of Ilis hands be spoiled in the making. Oh, it is,
of the Christian Ministry even, the hardest task to
know how always to deal with suffering ; and he,
who holds that sacred Office, may well nigh ask of
Grod, that upon himself may be laid the severest
burdens of His love, if so be that he may know, by
his own experience, what the Apostle so fully
learned by his — how rightly to comfort others.
I do not stand before the Altar, in the Sanctuary,
with the same intimate and awful sense of the
Divine jDresence as in the Chamber of Death, or by
the side of one whom God has smitten. May He
grant, of His infinite mercy, to us who bear the
vessels of His Ministry, that we may be filled with
that grace which is one of the highest gifts of the
Priesthood, as it was most thoroughly exemplified
in the earthly service of the Chief Shepherd — to
mourn aright with those who mourn, "to bind up
the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the cap-
tives, and the opening of the prison to them that
are bound !"*
iii. It is not often that I should allude here, in a
particular manner, to the death of a Parishioner.
* Isaiah, Ixi. 1.
I would not, at least, commit myself to the fatal
sj^stem of eulogies on the departed of one's own
Flock. It is botli inconvenient and inappropriate ;
invidious, if not universal ; if universal, sometimes
untrue, nnjust, and embarrassing, — unless, some-
times, eulogy cease, and tlie truth be told with
painful ness. I am well convinced, that no topics
are suited to the Pulpit but those which are of a
general character in their applicability to the Con-
gregation ; and that no pastoral care is worthy of
the name which does not look upon every indi-
vidual of the Flock as an equal claimant to its
But when one departs who, by some historical
association, is interwoven with the tenderest sym-
pathies of all, I cannot but think that it applies to
all to speak of it with the emotions which that
association is suited to excite. Thus, the fair child
which lay here, the other day, covered with flowers
— herself a flower, freshly created, as it were, and
beautified, by the impress of Death, for the fairer
gardens of Paradise — brought to my mind a touch-
ing record, which lies, among the homely statistics
of our Parish Register, a blooming incident in the
wilderness of names, and dates, and facts. Such a
one, (the name is unnecessary, for, as I have said,
it is for the parochial association alone that I men-
tion it,) such a one, the child of such and such a
one, with such and such sponsors, baptized ov.
9th, 1851 ; and then the incident, — which I give in
the words of the Kecord : " The holy hand which
applied the consecrated element to the brow of this
precious infant, became motionless in death before
it had time to record this its last sacramental act."
And now they are together in Paradise* — the
gentle Pastor and the youngest lamb which he
gathered into the Chief Shepherd's Fold ; and, by a
singular combination of circumstances, it is, I be-
lieve, the only child of this Parish that ever
received his baptismal blessing, which has, as yet,
followed him thither, — the last brought by him
into the Church Militant on earth, the first to join
him in the iJhurch Expectant in the celestial Eden.
It is a singular coincidence ; and it gives rise to
many peculiar emotions and to some instructive
thoughts. Is there the same watch and tending,
there as here ? Does the faithful Pastor see,
gathering around him, as time rolls on, the spirits
of those whom he won for Christ on earth ? Are
they, in any wise, a separated company, distinct
from all others of the Faithful Departed, clustering
* This was written in January 1853. And now, I may add, the
holy hand which made this record is, also, motionless in death. It
was the act of my venerable friend, the Rev. Dr. Eaton.
about him as they enter tliose bright abodes, and
ever multiplying, until the Saviour comes again in
His Majesty ? And does he then, the same faithful
Pastor, lead them forth from their state of waiting,
and present them, faultless, through Christ's Medi-
ation, before the Throne of God and of the Lamb ?
If so, (and what is more natural to be supposed?
the imagination is an innocent, and even a proba-
ble, if not a certain, one,) if so, then must not the
joys of Paradise be heightened by something of the
repetition there of our Church Communion on
earth? And, on the other hand, is not our Com-
munion here infinitely elevated, in its sanctity, its
awfulness, and the character of its mutual duties,
by the reflection, that it is to be carried into a per-
sonal association, and communing, and intimate
intercourse, beyond the grave? For they, surely,
who gather about their Pastor there, cannot but be
one with each other, in their oneness towards him.
These are fanciful imaginings, you may think, —
beyond the record of the Word of God. Yet, they
are not contrary to it ; and St. Paul intimates, more
than once, not only that the Pastor will, at last,
render account of his Flock unto God, but that
they will also be presented by him for their final
award ;* and,* if presented by him, they must
? 2 Cor. xi. 2 ; Col. i. 28.
surely be with him, a band by themselves, distinct
from all other companies which approach the Bar
of Deity.
What an awful, at once, and what a thrilling
purport does such a consideration as this give to
the relation of a Pastor and his people! "What
a holy tie, never wholly dissolved on earth, undis-
solved by death, re-formed in Paradise, and exist-
ing, it may be, through all the measureless lapse
of Eternity ! What a holiness does it impart to
it — what a reverend aspect — what a tenderness —
what a responsibility ! While the dearest and
closest of all other bonds is severed, because that
men are then to be, in such respects, as the A^^gels
of God, the Church stretches her Communion be-
yond the narrow bounds of time ; and the Pastor
and his people go, hand in hand, along a limitless
course, never separated while Eternity lasts, and
ever developing, together, the maturity of that
beatified life which his zealous hand planted, in
the germ, in the teachings of the Sanctuary, water-
ed with the quickening dew of the baptismal Font,
and fed, as with Angels' food, in the divine Feast
of the Eucharist.
What a tender, what a solemn, what a sacred im-
port does this thought give to a relation which, in
some men's minds, is but the bond of a pecuniary
contract, like other bargains of earth, hardly re-
moved, excepting in the nature of the duties to be
performed, from the common, transactions of the
Exchange and the market-place ! How delicately,
how tenderly, how carefully, should it be cherished !
How sedulously should we guard it from every
stain that might mar such a union eternally ! What
oneness of purpose should it create — what single-
ness of heart — what interlinking of sympathies —
what unity of effort ! Those whom God hath
joined together, let no man put asunder. The rela-
tion of the Pastor and his people has the impress
of Deity — the sanctity of Heaven — ^the oneness of
the undivided Spirit — the confidence of a superhu-
man Faith — the persistence of time — the intimate
association of Paradise — and the boundless reach
of Eternity. Brethren, Beloved in the Lord, may
we so realize our relation, in this characteristic of
it, that, whether present with or absent from each
other, in joy and in grief, in the fickle vicissitudes
of Time, and in the enduring and permanent state
of Eternity, its golden links may remain unbroken
and undimmed, the holiest bond of the Present and
the brightest connexion of the Future !

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